By: Christa Meland
Three individuals and two churches were recognized for the ways they have made a difference in their communities. Here’s a look at each of the recipients and their contributions:
Denman Evangelism Award, Clergy: Rev. Brenda North, Detroit Lakes United Methodist Church
Three years ago, Rev. Brenda North led Detroit Lakes United Methodist Church through the Health Church Initiative—an intensive revitalization process. One of the ministries that arose out of that process was adding a new Wednesday evening worship service, meal, and small group time for all ages. Participation in Wednesday evening activities has grown, and more than 100 people now attend each week. This has brought new energy and life to a congregation that was previously struggling to engage children and families in meaningful ways. North has a winsome personality, is personally connected to the people in her congregation, and has created a “can-do” spirit within the congregation. She has a deep desire for people to experience the grace-filled love of Jesus, and she shares her time and ministry to lead the church in being a missionary force for the community. Detroit Lakes UMC is now the largest worshipping congregation in the North Star District and has shown consistent growth over the past three years in reaching new people.
Denman Evangelism Award, Laity: Don Putzier, Hilltop United Methodist Church (Mankato)
Don Putzier has been a champion and an important part of the ministry of the Walk to Emmaus ever since he was a participant many years ago. The Walk to Emmaus is an experience of Christian spiritual renewal and formation that begins with a three-day short course in Christianity and provides an opportunity to meet Christ in a new way as God’s grace and love is revealed through other believers. Following the three-day experience, participants are joined in small groups to support each other in their ongoing walk with Christ. Putzier knows firsthand the incredible impact that the walk has in leading laity into a deeper relationship with Christ and empowering them for service in the local church. He pays close attention to who at his own church might be ready for a walk and assists in finding participants sponsors to support them on their journey. Putzier is unassuming, full of humility, and has a quiet discipline. His modest leadership has been part of the glue that has impacted not countless lives, but very countable lives.
Francis Asbury Higher Education Award: Rev. Laurie Boche, Hope United Methodist Church (Duluth)
Rev. Laurie Boche’s congregation, Hope United Methodist Church in Duluth, is located right across the street from the campus of the University of Minnesota—Duluth. She has worked with her congregation to intentionally consider ministry possibilities for college-age students, and the church in response has provided study space and encouraged students to participate in the church’s music program. The church is the host site for United Campus Ministry, one of two mainline Protestant campus ministries on the campus; it hosts a weekly campus ministry dollar dinner for college students; and it provides space for the campus ministry garage sale, where everything is 50 cents. Boche is a key member of the United Campus Ministry board, and under her guidance, the ministry has taken leadership of the community’s annual CROP Walk to support Church World Service and hunger ministries in the Duluth area.
Rural Church Award: Peace United Methodist Church, Plainview
Peace United Methodist Church in Plainview was asking the question “What are we known for in our community?” and members were unsure they were known for anything, so they set about changing that. Being in an agricultural community and with a deep commitment to be earth keepers, they decided to create Peace Gardens, which they call “a living prayer in action.” Begun as a project of the youth, but now involving the whole congregation, six six-foot by six-foot raised beds in the shape of the cross were built and planted with vegetables. The harvest was shared with the congregation, shut-ins, community members, and the area food shelf. The designated space on the church grounds encourages prayer and meditation as well as healthy eating habits. It has formed the congregation spiritually and practically as members have learned how to garden and to be in ministry together, and it has not stopped there. This summer, the gardens are being expanded for community gardening plots and a prayer garden with a walking path for people to follow as they pray. This unique ministry is a creative way that Peace UMC is fulfilling the gospel imperatives of growing in love of God and neighbor, reaching new people, and healing a broken world.
One Matters Award: First United Methodist Church, Lindstrom
First United Methodist Church has become very visible in its community through its ministries and programs. For example, the church began a local chapter of A Brush With Kindness, a ministry under the umbrella of Habitat For Humanity; through it, many people from the church repair homes in the Chisago Lakes area. This ministry has expanded to include other churches in the county as well. Additionally, every June, First UMC hosts a praise and family fest where local praise bands share music on an outdoor stage throughout the day, churches in the area can share what’s happening in their congregations, and a free meal is provided to the community; last year, more than 700 people attended. The church also began an after-school program for middle-schoolers called Club Rock that meets on Fridays. Shortly before Christmas, 200 to 300 children show up to purchase new or slightly used Christmas gifts for parents and grandparents; these gifts, given by people from the church, only cost the kids $1. Then there’s the church’s annual live nativity, which brings more than 500 people to witness Christ’s birth. This church, though small in numbers, is reaching new people and sharing God’s love in many tangible ways.
Christa Meland is director of communications for the Minnesota Annual Conference of the United Methodist Church.
Minnesota Annual Conference of the United Methodist Church